OPINION: Coca-Cola and Climbing - A Bittersweet Collaboration

Ellen Barber comments on US teenage climbing prodigy Ashima Shiraishi's recently announced sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola, which met with an outpour of strong reactions online.

On Ashima Shiraishi's birthday, April 3rd, she announced a new sponsorship deal from Coca-Cola. However, instead of being wished a happy birthday from her 170k+ fans on Instagram, she received criticism - some sweet sixteen! Some people are angry, upset and annoyed, either at Ashima for taking the sponsorship or at Coca-Cola for offering it.


This corporate sponsorship will undeniably have an impact on the climbing community; we are now just like any other sport in the Olympics with big name sponsors. Of course, there is also the fact that the product itself is unhealthy and filled with sugar and chemicals. To top it all off, though, it is polluting our environment thanks to the production of plastic bottles. This being said, what is done is done. Coca-Cola has now made its way into our community and we can either complain and sulk about it, or we can turn it around to our advantage.

We’ve got to ask though, why is this Coca-Cola sponsorship causing so much more uproar than any Red Bull sponsorship has? After all, Red Bull has more than twice the caffeine of Coke alongside other ingredients which may be more harmful to health than the caffeine itself. Or are we over it since we think that Red Bull has now had a positive input into our sport? It is hard to criticise a sponsorship from Coca-Cola without criticising a sponsorship from Red Bull. However, as Sasha DiGiulian (sponsored by Red Bull) has said herself in a blog, “I have an accumulative amount of over half a million people following me on my social media accounts. When I realized that people who I’d never met were paying attention to my life and curious about what I had to say, I knew that I could use this platform to affect change beyond my niche sport.” If Sasha can use the platform she’s attained to spread a positive message, why not Ashima?

Now that Ashima has accepted this sponsorship she has a lot more power than she may realise to cause change, for the better. She has the power to talk about healthy consumption, exercise and responsible recycling. However, if you look at the Coca-Cola website, they appear to be changing their ways - they have already started by making Coca-Cola bottles smaller. Maybe one day soon we will see some Instagram posts with... #lessismore. Coca-Cola will be happy for Ashima to share positive advertising on how Coca-Cola is changing for the better, and if we as a climbing community show that this interests us, we are instantly putting pressure on the company to keep changing, for the better.

Regarding pollution via plastic bottles, this is a very serious issue of our time. There is far too much plastic in our world today and it leaves a permanent scar on our landscape and kills biodiversity. There is no good or bad side, because we are all people and in the end, we cannot be perfect, but if we work together we could make some big changes. We need to communicate to the big players in the business world and see what changes can be made. Let’s talk about recycling, let’s talk about reducing waste and let’s talk about alternatives to plastics.

Ashima has now got this power, she can talk about where to take plastic bottles for recycling, for example, and we can express as a climbing community how important protecting the environment is to us and that we as a community want them to do more to help protect our environment. Who else would like to see a crag rubbish collection sponsored by Coca-Cola? I know I would.

All in all, we could view this sponsorship in two ways: we could get angry at how Coca-Cola has invaded our climbing world that is based on being in touch with nature and fill it with sugary advertising perfectly wrapped in plastic. On the other hand, we could try and see the glass half full. We should realise that this is not a one-way interaction, and that cumulatively we hold the strength to influence multi-monster-national Coca-Cola for the better. If we support Ashima as the positive climbing community that we are, we should have faith that she will lead the way.

If you have finished reading this article and you are still angry, why not give Coca-Cola a call and let them know why?

Ellen Barber, 92 kb
Ellen Barber
Ellen Barber is 22 and has been climbing for 15 years now, but also runs long distance, translates and writes occasionally. After a few years of running, walking and climbing up hills in Scotland she is now living in the flatland of Belgium, but tries to escape the city as often as possible to find some rocks and fresh air. As part of her lifestyle she tries to eat organic, vegetarian and goes to the Zero Waste shop. She would like to thank Pieter Steyaert for his contribution to this article.

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